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Gas Prices Hit Record Levels for February

U.S. gasoline prices have jumped to the highest levels ever for the middle of February. The national average hit $3.127 per gallon on Friday, about 50 cents above a year ago.

The price is about 6 percent higher than on this date in 2008. The next day, pump prices began a string of 32 gains over 34 days. They rose 39 percent over five months, eventually hitting an all-time high of $4.11 per gallon in July.

Although gas prices are expected to rise, most experts aren't expecting a reprise of 2008, when the price spike forced many drivers to join car pools and trade in gas-guzzling SUVs for fuel-efficient cars.

"It would be a mistake to think we're going to have that all over again," said OPIS chief oil analyst Tom Kloza.

He says oil demand will slide in the U.S. by May, as refineries slow fuel production while they switch to summer blends of gas. World oil consumption also may not rise as much as expected.

And Kloza contends that oil traders are more cautious now, after getting burned when oil plunged to $33 per barrel in early 2009, just six months after hitting $147 per barrel. Even the most bullish traders no longer think they can chase commodity prices higher without risk, he says.

Still, Kloza expects gas to reach $3.50 to $3.75 per gallon this spring because of the usual run-up in prices ahead of the summer driving season. That would mean an increase of 12 to 20 percent from the current level.

Crude Futures - Monthly Chart

Crude Oil Futures
Image: Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis

Crude futures for now have stalled right at 50% retrace level of the 2008 plunge in spite of the recent turbulence in Egypt.

Unleaded Gasoline Futures - Monthly Chart

Unleaded Gasoline Futures
Image: Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis

Unleaded gasoline futures and gas pump prices follow the price of crude as one might expect.

Note the seasonal nature of the moves. Gasoline prices (and crude futures) tend to rise from January until June or July in most years.

In 2007, there was a ramp from the beginning of the year that ended in April, followed by a pullback until July. From then it was straight up for a full year.

2009 was back to the familiar pattern of continued strength from the beginning of the year until July. 2010 had a July low instead of a high, similar to 2007.

Crude Futures - Daily Chart

Daily Crude Futures
Image: Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis

Prices at the pump may be up, but crude prices are down since the start of the year as noted by the dashed line. Prices at the pump will head lower eventually if crude prices keep sliding.

Inability for crude prices to continue higher with events in Egypt and the Mideast might be meaningful. Moreover, interest rate hikes in China could start weighing on commodity prices in general, especially if those hikes come at a pace faster than expected.

There are a lot of variables in play, including seasonality, rate hikes in China, the extremely overbought reflation trade, Quantitative Easing, and price action weakness (except for a 2-day pop now taken back) in the face of events in Egypt.

By. Mike "Mish" Shedlock of Global Economic Trend Analysis




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